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Published: Saturday, 7/19/2003

Days aboard refreshing, educational

Kyle Matthews, 17, of Ottawa, Ont., and an officer-in-training aboard the Fair Jeanne, lashes a shackle on the jib boom. He says that he gets a `feeling of freedom' from the sailing life. Kyle Matthews, 17, of Ottawa, Ont., and an officer-in-training aboard the Fair Jeanne, lashes a shackle on the jib boom. He says that he gets a `feeling of freedom' from the sailing life.

Relaxing. Traditional. Simple.

The ocean's the limit when it comes to describing life aboard a sailing ship, and many sailors docked in Toledo for the Huntington Tall Ships festival speak of it, if you ask, with a mix of endearment and humility.

Some captains, in turn, claim there's space aboard their ships for any who are the least bit curious.

Certainly there are downsides for those not used to the life. Schedules can be grueling: three hours on, three hours off, day and night; constant work; lack of showers; living in a “closet” with six people.

Sara Pingel, 23, of Brooklyn, Mich., a crewman aboard the Nina, described her days on the water as relaxed but constant - and sometimes hard. It starts with breakfast, followed by her daily whippings and lashings - of ropes. With five miles-worth of rigging constantly unraveling, “there's always, always, something to do,” Ms. Pingel said. “Plus there's re-oiling, tarring the ship, climbing the masts to get the stuff up there, swabbing the deck. ..”

The surprising thing is, many crewmen aboard the tall ships are not longtime professionals but novices to maritime culture.

“There are opportunities on all these ships for new people to go sailing,” said Doug Prothero, captain of the Appledore IV. “Most of my crew has very minimal experience.”

While most captains demand a minimum commitment - anywhere from three weeks to several months - some do not.

Bob Koenig, 49, stepped aboard the Nina just one week ago in his hometown of Cleveland and stepped off just yesterday in Toledo to go home.

“I didn't get a chance to get my own boat out this summer,” Mr. Koenig said. “My boss said, `Go for it,' so I did.”

Ms. Pingel added that Nina would welcome new crew members, if anyone in Toledo was interested.

Some of the vessels resort to more organized forms of recruitment, however.

The Fair Jeanne, which has its home port in Kingston, Ont., runs an on-board youth program for children in its area. A minimum of one-fifth of that crew comes from “challenged” home environments, who learn the traditions and skills of the Canadian Navy aboard the vessel during voyages lasting 10 to 60 days.

Kathryn Whittaker, captain of the Fair Jeanne, oversees a crew of 25 - including 18 trainees ages 14 through 19, who pay $700 Canadian for the voyage.

“You learn to be self-reliant,” said trainee Meredith Mckinnon, 15, of Ottawa, Ont. “You learn that you're the only one that can change your own course.”

Every morning, trainees aboard the Fair Jeanne start their day with “happy hour,” during which they scrub down the deck, galley, and living quarters.

“You learn to love it,” said Fair Jeanne trainee Michael Mathieson, 16, also of Ottawa.

Certainly one might learn, over time, to love the sailing life - but what makes sailors take it up in the first place for long periods of time?

“I love traveling, but I hate moving,” said Guy Carleton, 30, a deckhand aboard the Appledore IV who has been sailing for five years.

“It's the feeling of freedom,” said Kyle Mathews, 17, an officer-in-training aboard the Fair Jeanne.

Many deckhands spoke in reverent tones about the quiet, the calm they feel on the water, for at least a moment, after the sails are up and the engine is off.

“When you get back on land, you're refreshed,” Mr. Koenig said. “Sailing replenishes you. You're ready to handle all the other stuff in your life.”

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